Analysis / 24.08.2020

Official figures suggest that the pandemic has abated in Pakistan. This is welcome news but we need to be sure. It would be unfortunate either if the verdict is wrong or if real gains are undone through premature relaxation.  I have some misgivings based on observations since the beginning of the epidemic. At the outset I noted the remarkably casual attitude of individuals implementing measures to control the disease with many not following SOPs themselves.  I then tracked the case of a neighbour who tested positive for Covid-19 in a house with eight other residents. No one from the local health authorities called for contact tracing. A few days later the person died in a hospital. Still, no one in the house was traced and tested. I encountered families who let symptomatic elders die at home rather than visit a hospital or be tested preferring a ‘proper’ burial...

Education / 22.08.2020

At its most basic, education has two dimensions -- what is taught and how it is taught. Everyone would agree that the most excellent content can be taught very poorly. It is less obvious that good pedagogy can overcome the handicap of indifferent content by enabling students to self-learn, a skill they can use to find content that meets their needs. This reflection should lead to the conclusion that how we teach is more important than what we teach. Even more so in an age when old content dates rapidly and new content is added daily. In such times the only skill that ensures survival is that of self-learning beyond the classroom. We no longer live in times in which students were prepared for careers that lasted lifetimes and for which they required foundational training to which they added incrementally by learning on the job. Today, careers...

Education / 20.08.2020

The mandate of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) should now be to save higher education in Pakistan but quite asides from the fact that past actions of the HEC are themselves responsible for the present state, I think the tipping point, much like that for climate change, has been crossed. Mir Taqi Mir would have equated the proposition with seeking a cure from the same apothecary’s son responsible for the ailment  Now when I think of either, I can’t help thinking of Fitzgerald’s rendering of Omar Khayyam’s quatrain: The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it. I have said it before and have no reason to change my mind that disastrous as operations like Gibraltar, Searchlight, and Badr were for the wellbeing of Pakistan, their...

Development / 19.08.2020

Now that we have discovered all the “essential” workers who were invisible to us, or to whom we had closed our eyes, what are we going to do? I mean, the people who keep our cities and buildings and homes clean and functional. Is it really alright for them to live the way they have been living all these years -- in some hovel, making barely enough to eat, working Sundays so they can accumulate enough leave to visit every four months, for a week, their parents, wives, and children forsaken in some faraway village? Is it really alright and acceptable to you? Is it mandated by some God on high? I know it before you can say it. We are back in the days of the Roman pantheon and there is a Market God except that now he doesn’t stay atop Mount Olympus but in Hyde...

Development / 15.08.2020

For the life of me I can’t figure out why Aitchison College students still have to wear those things on their heads. I was reminded of them when a retired teacher shared a chapter of the autobiography he is writing adorning it with the picture of a bevy of boys milling around him all capped in that anachronistic headgear.  Before jumping to conclusions I decided to check with a former student and was educated about the origins of the institution as the Punjab Chiefs’ College in 1886. I was informed that this headgear was part of the proper attire of the Punjab chiefs of the times and it was only natural that their offspring, the future chiefs, would continue the tradition.  That much made sense except that very soon after, the British renamed the college for a wannabe chief of their own, one Mr. Aitchison. Not just...

History / 12.08.2020

What, I thought, would be our reaction, those of us living along the heretofore unimaginatively named Avenue 2, if some overenthusiastic brigadier, inspired by our vaunted Prime Minister, were, in the spirit of bravado, to rename it Osama Bin Laden Shaheed Road? It’s bad enough living in the Defence Housing Authority but by now our senses have been numbed to that offense. We are able to call friends and tell them to come to our Defence but to have to direct them to continue straight on Osama Bin Laden Shaheed Road would be a bit much to stomach.  My thoughts on this are informed by the heated debate that erupted in 2015 when Aurangzeb Road in Delhi was renamed Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road. This is what I wrote then about how one might go about such a renaming: “It doesn’t seem right that some minister or bureaucrat...

Reflections / 08.08.2020

  I read a strange proposal the other day -- that Tipu Sultan’s famous tiger, safely ensconced in the British museum, ought to be returned to Pakistan because Pakistan is the Muslim successor state to Colonial India and also because the tiger is a symbol of resistance. This is just so problematic at so many levels. First of all, Bangladesh is just as much a Muslim successor state of Colonial India as Pakistan and the fact that it has (wisely) not lodged such a preposterous claim should not be held against it. Given the fact that there are two successor Muslim states, how would a Solomon allocate the trembling tiger? Would the head be assigned to Pakistan as the senior successor state and the tail to Bangladesh for having arrived late on the scene?   And why should a Muslim successor state be privileged in any way in its...

Analysis / 04.08.2020

The Coronavirus pandemic is bad enough but, as dozens of countries have demonstrated, it can be controlled -- there were just 3 new cases in Sri Lanka on June 12. Even in places where the number of infected persons was very large before the alert was sounded, Italy for example, new cases per day have dropped from 6,557 on March 21 to 163 on June 12. In Pakistan, they continue to rise -- from 144 on March 21 to 6,397, the highest to date, on June 12. What makes the pandemic so recalcitrant in Pakistan, where the initial cases were minimal for lack of tourists, are the epidemics within the epidemics.  The first of these is the blight of ignorance. A country where the majority cannot verify information for itself is hugely handicapped. All it should take is a visit to one of the many data...

Analysis / 01.08.2020

While the pandemic has months to run, enough time has passed since its inception to render an interim judgement on its management in Pakistan and India. Despite giving the governments as much benefit of doubt as I possibly can, I am afraid I have to assign both a failing grade. The governments would no doubt contest this award so let me justify my verdict. As always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating so let us look at the actual situation at this time. Both countries are reporting the highest number of deaths per day to date -- Pakistan over a 100 and India close to 400. Despite everything they have thrown at it, the graph of new cases continues to rise and their number exceeds the number of new recoveries so the load on hospitals continues to grow. Unlike most other countries, where...